Profound Dimensions: The Depth and Height of Love

“Jesus’ whole life and mission involved accepting powerlessness and revealing in the powerlessness the limitlessness of God’s love.”  Henri Nouwen

For most of my adult life, God has been taking me on a journey to see and experience true powerlessness and learn what it is and how Jesus walked in that state to all appearances but at the same time knowing he had all-power.  He had no money and was homeless, the lowest of our social standards.  My greatest challenge is conveying to the people who feel they have no power that as they have Christ, they have all-power.  But you must see with spiritual eyes to find the joy and peace that comes from believing and that is not easy when you’re cut off from your family and in the company of people who do not see with spiritual eyes.  Having Christ and his all-power that is promised with faith is a step by step journey.   All of Sweetwater Journey writing has been about seeing with spiritual eyes.  This can only be accomplished from a place of love – loving your enemies, loving those who persecute you, walking that extra mile and turning the other cheek. Knowing that it’s not you who does this but the Christ in you.  Recently, I have experienced the resistance and prejudice that exists regarding helping ex-offenders.  This has tested my understanding of how that attitude can exist in the hearts of Christians, especially knowing that Christ hung on a cross between two thieves on crosses. 

He forgave the one who sought to be forgiven and promised that he would be in Paradise with Him that very day.

Here’s that story: 39 One of the criminals who were hanged there was [l]hurling abuse at Him, saying, “Are You not the Christ? Save Yourself and us!” 40 But the other answered, and rebuking him said, “Do you not even fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 And he was saying, “Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!” 43 And He said to him, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.” Luke 23:39-43

The other thief didn’t seek forgiveness.  He was all about himself and what he wanted, unable to have compassion and see the truth of Jesus being innocent. The difference between the two thieves is the difference between those who see with spiritual eyes and those who don’t.   Sometimes, you can reach the selfish thief-types but it takes a great deal of love and patience.  We live in a time now when divisiveness and even hate is running rampant.  Civil discourse is no longer sought, just entrenched attitudes that seek no compromise. Lately, I have become acutely aware of the prophesied times we are living in – times when father and son and mother and daughter are divided.  That it is not a political issue, but a spiritual issue.  The only standard there is for measuring what’s spiritually right and wrong is the Holy Scriptures. 

 

“But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people.”  2 Timothy 3:1-17

 

There is nowhere in the Scriptures that says these behaviors so clearly delineated in 2 Timothy 3 are acceptable.  Paul’s disciple Timothy comes from a very unique background that speaks clearly to people in jail to whom I minister.  In Acts 16 we find the calling of Timothy.

In Ray Vanderlaan’s series “That the World May Know”, volume 7 “Walk As Jesus Walked “   he talks about Paul’s multiple trips to Lystra.    This was a long and hard journey on foot yet he went there led by the Spirit each time to minister to the Christians until one time he discovered there was a deeper purpose.  It was to call a certain young man who, because of his birth circumstances to a Jewish woman and a Greek man, was considered an outcast.  He lived in the fringes growing up, not considered a Jew so not given the spiritual blessings by the rabbi and consequently had no real place of importance until he began to become more involved in the Christian community.  Timothy had won the admiration of the Christians in the entire area.  The Spirit had been at work in Timothy for a greater purpose even though he wasn’t acceptable to the society at large.  Paul called him to be his disciple.    

“ For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility”,  Ephesians 2:14

“Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.” Hebrews 12:14

“So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.  If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” Gal 3:26-29

 

“Suppose ye that I am come to give peace on earth? I tell you, Nay; but rather division:For from henceforth there shall be five in one house divided, three against two, and two against three. The father shall be divided against the son, and the son against the father; the mother against the daughter, and the daughter against the mother; the mother in law against her.”Luke 12:51-53

I believe that Christ doesn’t do the dividing but our believing in Him and following His ways will naturally divide us at times from those who do not follow His ways, even if they are close family members. Other divisions have the same spiritual basis. 

 

The limitlessness of God’s love is the only belief that matters. The Apostles told us how it would play out at the end:

  “These are grumblers, malcontents, following their own sinful desires; they are loud-mouthed boasters, showing favoritism to gain advantage. But you must remember, beloved, the predictions of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ. They said to you, ‘In the last time there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions.’ It is these who cause divisions, worldly people, devoid of the Spirit.” Jude 1:16-19

 

“. . . when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” Luke 18:8

I just read the book “Rising Out of Hatred” written by Pulitzer Prize winning author Eli Saslow.  The book is about the radical awakening of the young heir of the White Nationalists, Derek Black.  I don’t include this story in this chapter for any kind of political persuasion but only to show how powerfully God’s limitless, instinctual love resides in each of us as a spark of freedom, equality and his love for everyone regardless of race or creed, male or female, master or slave.

Eli Saslow chose to write about Black because in his research he discovered that this young man had gone from running a popular website for “proud white children” as a youth to disavowing his racist beliefs as a college student in 2013 and apologizing for everything he’d done just before he dropped off the radar and became a private citizen. Derek had grown up the son of White Nationalist leader, Don Black, who founded the internet’s largest hate site “The Stormfront.org”.  Derek was also the godson of KKK’s David Duke. Their premise is dangerous and appealing to the ego-centered sin of hate and exclusion that resides in all of us to some degree – the very sin for which Christ calls us to repentance. 

Derek was taught as a child to believe that the white race was facing extinction unless there was certain rhetoric and even violent action taken against others who were not white.  The book was not written from a spiritual transformation angle but powerful in the evolving sort of way Derek really took a closer look at his beliefs and practices of those beliefs.  He made friends with a Jewish man in the college he attended, one of the groups White Nationalists hate. Even though at first, Matthew’s Sabbath meal was a novelty to Derek, he enjoyed experiencing how others believed and lived out that belief with love and respect for each other.  He experienced love and friendship from a broad spectrum of people who were from all races and creeds.  When it became known on the campus who and what  he was, many, especially his new friends, decided to not react and exclude him from their circles even though his presence and what he stood for evoked hate and even fear in many.  His immediate circle of acquaintances had to bring under scrutiny their treatment of him – even though he had extreme beliefs of separation and discrimination, he was outwardly a gentle person who had not acted in any untoward way against any of them.  In fact, he was seeking understanding of those he had been taught to hate. He describes growing up in an environment, not so much of violence but being brainwashed with concepts of white superiority. The person who had the greatest impact was a young woman on the campus with whom he began to spend time.   She shared his interest in ancient history and over time through loving patience and respect was able to show him that people of other races and creeds were not inferior and how much they had contributed to the positive advancements of civilization.  He gradually disavowed his racist beliefs and turned his life around.  I would recommend this read as a metamorphosis of the human spirit and the instinctual love God places in each of us for non-judgmental inclusion of all.

Jesus stated: “O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me. I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.” John 17:25-26

 

“Jesus’ whole life and mission involved accepting powerlessness and revealing in the powerlessness the limitlessness of God’s love. Here we see what compassion means.  It is not a bending toward the underprivileged from a privileged position; it is not a reaching out from on high to those who are less fortunate below, it is not a gesture of sympathy or pity for those who fail to make it in the upward pull, on the contrary, compassion means going directly to those people and places where suffering is most acute and building a home there.” Henri Nouwen

  “I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. 

As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. …” 2 Timothy 4:1-22

Christian Picciolini described his descent into America’s most violent hate movement – and how he got out in the book “White American Youth”.  “I write this book with optimism that my cautionary tale will help others to search for identity, belonging, and purpose in  healthy, inclusive communities and will have the strength to walk away from empty promises, and that people will listen to those who encourage them to be compassionate human beings instead of finding a place among those who prey on the insecure and exploit their loneliness, fear, confusion and feelings of worthlessness. I hope that by exposing racism, hate will have fewer places to hide.”

At one point in his early 20’s he was selected to lead what was becoming the most feared and violent white supremacist group in the US – Hammerskin Nation.  Singer, performer Joan Jett writes the foreword in this book and states:“Christian managed to do the one great thing that anyone who has ever been in his position – or is in his position today – could do: he learned to recognize his blindness, to see how violently corrupted he’d become.  He was able to pick his head up from the muck of that ideology and see the error of his ways, to steer the ship in the other direction, and to get out.  He not only left and at last denounced the movement in the late nineties, he  went on to become a powerful voice against hatred, co-founding the nonprofit Life After Hate in 2009 and launching  North America’s first extremist intervention program. . .he had discovered that his prejudice and bigotry were paper-thin lies.”

“The world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.”  I John 2:17

 “When you are in tribulation, and all these things come upon you in the latter days, you will return to the Lord your God and obey his voice.”  Deuteronomy 4:30

“For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions—is not from the Father but is from the world.” I John 2:16

“White American Youth” is an extreme read about the dark side of life entrenched in hate, violence and chaos, but here is where God’s love shines the brightest as it contrasts against the black gulf that the human centered in itself is capable of creating.  Christianity can be narrow and exclusive in the ways they create standards for salvation that was given for all, not a select few.  We can’t possibly imagine how God will save all he can through His Son Jesus Christ if those standards are not met according to our limited understanding. We don’t realize and accept how far-reaching God’s presence goes into places where we fear to go, but God’s love is there and can burst into flame from just a feeble ember.    Wherever there is a desperate need for spiritual transformation, which is everywhere, God’s limitless love is there in some form.  This transformation begins with the gradual awareness that His children are all the cultures of the world.  Jesus Christ is God.  When Christ returns he will gather the tribes from all over the planet to come to Zion and live together with Him as one –  one race, the human race. “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.” I John 3:2

In the book of Ezekiel, there is a beautiful scripture about how God is going to change us: “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” Ezekiel 36:26 NIV 

 

Only hate and prejudice can reside in a heart of stone, but thankfully God can change that. He said he would.  I’ve seen it happen. I’ve read that Light travels into us through our wound. 

 

This chapter of Sweetwater Journey about God’s limitless love would not be complete without  still another amazing story unfolding in our time – the story about two Christian ministers who were brought together to fight hatred and racism.  Their coming together in 2005 was orchestrated by the Great Orchestrator of all. 

In Matt Lockett’s words:” In 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. arguably the most well-known speech in human history, everyone is very familiar with it and knows it,  yet what happened to us is – we found ourselves standing in the same spot 41 years after the fact.  We met each other and initially didn’t connect it to the speech.  Yet now what we’ve found out is that maybe Dr. King’s speech wasn’t just poetry – maybe it was prophecy.  In that speech, he stated, ‘ I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit together at the table of brotherhood.’ That statement has become very significant to us.  After Will and me praying for a decade, we found a connection in our family histories.  Historical records revealed that my family, who were slave owners, actually owned Will’s family who were slaves.  We are literally a fulfillment of those words in Dr. King’s speech.” 

In Will Ford’s words: “The story Matt and I carry, is a sign of what God is doing in terms of turning this nation around. We’re not going to fix issues like racism without each other. We have to move together. To think that two men with that connection were led to the place where Dr. King said those words in his ‘I Have A Dream’ speech, it blows my mind.  One, we were both led by dreams to that spot, to a public prayer meeting led by Martin Luther King’s niece Dr. Alveda King.  Two, it was MLK Celebration Day.  Three it was the spot on the Lincoln Memorial where he gave the speech. That’s where we were when we first met.”  Interview by Josh Shepherd 8-13-18

In his ministry, Will Ford carries with him a cast iron kettle pot passed down through his family when they were slaves for generations to today.  The kettle was used for cooking and for washing clothes.  It had another very unique purpose.  His ancestors were Christians who lived in strict dominance by their owners, the Lockett family.  On this plantation, slaves were allowed to be Christian because the owners felt they were more manageable but they were not allowed to pray.  Their owners were afraid they were praying for freedom so they were beaten if they were caught praying.  After dark, the slaves would take the large kettle pot to a remote barn where they would turn the pot upside down propped on stones so there was an opening around the rim at the bottom.  The ones who were praying would lay on the ground in a way that their prayers would be spoken into the pot and muffle the sound as they prayed throughout the night.    “They didn’t believe that they would ever see freedom in their own lifetimes, so they prayed for the freedom of their children and their children’s children. One day freedom did come. A young girl who attended those prayer meetings was set free from slavery.  This teenage girl saw fit to pass down the cast iron kettle because she knew that she and all those born after her were standing on the sacrifice of others’ devotion to Christ.”Taken from The Dream King written by Will Ford and Matt Lockett. 

Ford and Lockett were actually visiting a war memorial where the last battle of the Civil War was fought when Matt’s brother called him and told him that the place where they were was owned by their ancestry the Lockett’s and that they had owned the ancestors of Will Ford. 

After years of planning, the OneRace prayer meeting took place on August 25, 2018 on the red hills of Georgia, on Stone Mountain near Atlanta to let freedom ring – all praying for the racial divide in America. Stone Mountain is the site of the carving into the mountain of the three figures central to the Confederacy: Lee, Davis and Jackson.

Against this backdrop, around 25,000 gathered as part of the OneRace Movement, a group that has brought 560 Atlanta-area pastors together in pursuit of reconciliation and revival. Co-director of the event Billy Humphrey stated in the opening: “We believe we are in a divine moment. The Lord wants to eradicate racism and dead religion in every form in the church.  He wants to expose blind spots of prejudice, privilege, bitterness, and fear.  The answer to division and hate is the gospel of Jesus Christ.”   One observation was made in the planning of this event is that people were being brought to Christ but not discipled into oneness as is stated in John 17:20-22

“I am not asking on behalf of them alone, but also on behalf of those who will believe in Me through their message, that all of them may be one, asYou, Father, are in Me, and I am in You. May theyalso be in Us, so that the world may believe thatYou sent Me. I have given them the glory You gave Me, so that they may be one as We are one-“O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me. I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.” John 17:25-26

At the end, the crowd took communion together at the “table of brotherhood,” a nod to Martin Luther King Jr’s 1963 speech.

“For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles—Surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given to me for you, that is, the mystery made known to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly. In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to people in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets. This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus. I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of his power. Although I am less than the least of all the Lord’s people, this grace was given me:

to preach to the Gentiles the boundless riches of Christ, and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, 11 according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence. I ask you, therefore, not to be discouraged because of my sufferings for you, which are your glory. For this reason I kneel before the Father,  from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever! Amen.” Ephesians 3:1-20

 

“The Lord said: Israel, I promise that someday all your tribes will again be my people, and I will be your God.” Jer 31:1-2

“Who comes to this House today? We come from the east to celebrate our God who has created the rising sun and has given us a new day. We come from the north to remember that the One who made us has also shaped the face of icy mountains and snow-swept valleys. We come from the west, singing of our Maker’s love and dancing with the red sun at our backs. We come from the south, our voices rising with the desert winds as we praise the Giver of all life.  Let us join together as one body, worshipping God in Spirit and truth. God creates every person a sacred being, an image of the face of God. God connects us all to one another, part of the great wheel turning.  Through the Son, God shows us the way to live within the circle of life.” Taken from a Service of Thankgsgiving, written by The Rev. Anita Phillips, Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference.

“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:37-39

“So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.” 1 John 4:16

“He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.  And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God’.” Revelation 21:3-4

Imagine your community, with shining lights through the ones who are showing the way forward because they see with spiritual eyes, even the burning bush that glows before us.  You could be that person.  I could be that person and together we could be that Light. 

“That you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world.”  Philippians 2:15

 

Photo by Erik Witsoe on Unsplash

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